Triumphs of science

Keep reading to discover why Chris + chilli might equal a triumph of science

COVID-19 vaccines are, without a doubt, a triumph of humans’ achievement in scientific and technological endeavour. That we have developed, manufactured and started rolling out relatively well tested vaccines in around one year since COVID-19 was identified, and less than one year since it was first sequenced, is truly amazing. If humans could apply such energy and focus to climate change, I wonder what we could achieve. However, COVID-19 appear to be another case of humans being best at reacting in extreme adversity, rather than being great at forward planning; we can do wonders when there is an imminent existential threat.

Bloomberg is doing a good job of providing a vaccine tracker to monitor the progress of this triump. Bloomberg calculate that, at current rates of vaccination, it will take 7 years for the world to reach 75% vaccination levels, as estimated to provide herd immunity.  Israel might reach this point in 2 months, the USA by the beginning of 2022. NZ is estimating ‘full’ immunisation by the beginning of 2022 also. However, we don’t even register on Bloomberg’s scale as we don’t have any vaccine in the country yet, much less people being inoculated. But we did move forward this week – Medsafe approved the Pfizer/Biontech vaccine for use in New Zealand, a significant step along our pathway to starting vaccinating people. Vaccinations are still planned to start by April, the Pfizer vaccine arriving before the end of March. I don’t want to think about virus mutation and consequent need to alter vaccines, which will mean those already vaccinated are not protected against new strains, pushing timeframes out.

Moving away from COVID-19, another triumph of science of late that I heard about has been a new approach to treating cramp. Cramp is indubitably a lesser evil than COVID-19, but if you get it, you know all about it. The received wisdom regarding cramp has been that cramp is caused by electrolyte imbalances. Chris is very prone to cramp. He previously used CrampStop, until I pointed out that the bottle said it is a homeopathic remedy, at which point it completely stopped working for him.

Homeopathy is anathema to scientists because it works on the basis that the more dilute a substance is, the more powerful it is. The most powerful homeopathic dilution is so dilute that there would not be one molecule of the substance in the universe (and definitely not in a bottle); in fact, many homeopathic remedies are so dilute that none of the substances in the remedy are actually contained in the bottle. This might be a good thing in the case of CrampStop, because one of the ingredients is ‘nux vomica’, also known as strychnine. Strychnine is a potent poison which is exceptionally painful to experience while it kills you. The other ingredients in CrampStop (which may well not be there at all), are magnesium phosphate (pandering to the electrolyte imabalance theory of cramp), metallic copper and arnica (which may reduce inflammation, but probably not if it isn’t present).

The alternative to homeopathy for cramp we found was magnesium, based on the electrolyte imbalance theory. Chris originally bought magnesium pills labelled “Age Concern” and now calls all brands of magnesium pills ‘old man’s potion’. Magnesium pills appear to work, in that Chris thinks that he doesn’t get cramp, or gets less cramp, when he takes them. However, that was also his experience with CrampStop!

Roll in the latest scientific theory about the causes, and treatments, for cramp. The treatment is…a chilli-type hot sensation in the mouth. A 2003 Nobel prize winner, who discovered channels in cell membranes, was tired of getting cramp when he went sea kayaking. He pondered on the peculiarity of cramp. It is supposed to be caused by electrolyte imbalance, which may be related to dehydration. So why do people get cramp when they are lying in bed, neither messing with electrolytes nor hydration? Rod MacKinnon suggests that the primary origin of cramp is the nerve, not the muscle, and cramp is caused by excessive firing of motor neurons. Rod had the idea that he could modify the nervous system—effectively distract it—by overloading the nervous system through pungent flavors in a person’s mouth.

What I love about this, is that a scientist challenged an accepted wisdom that, when considered, didn’t seem very wise at all. Science is never even close to perfect. People accept theories that have been around because one doesn’t have time or brain capacity to question everything every time one considers it. Therefore, it is great to have wake-up calls, to remind us that if a conclusion seems weird, it probably is weird and should be questioned.

Rod MacKinnon tested his ‘hot taste vs cramp’ theory by mixing up potions of ginger and cinnamon and tasting them. He has gone on to work with others and carry out controlled studies, which demonstrated efficacy of his approach. Rod and team’s next step has been to market HotShot as a remedy for cramp. HotShot contains filtered water, organic cane sugar, organic gum arabic, organic lime juice concentrate, pectin, sea salt, natural flavor, stevia extract, organic cinnamon, organic ginger and organic capsaicin (no-one says it tastes good, though it is clearly trying with the sugar ingredient).

I want to try a simpler and non-proprietary approach to cramp – carry a bottle of No. 6 Chilli for cramp prevention. We tried No. 10 Chilli first, but cooking with a small amount of No. 10 left us coughing 4 hours later from aerosolised chilli and we had to throw the food out, so we stepped down a few chilli rungs. I am now eagerly waiting for Chris to get cramp so we can try out the experiment. I am looking for other volunteers – anyone offering?

The videos below are strangely touching. Who would have thought of the Swiss police meeting the challenge of a viral dance? And further challenging the Irish to meet their standard?!

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Published by janecshearer

I'm a self-employed life enthusiast living in Gibbston, New Zealand

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